2021 was Year Two of COVID-19 and the theatrical side of the film business was dormant of box office success except for mainly popcorn movies, the ones of the MCU kind. Lots of potentially interesting films hit my radar but alas most were dumped to streaming platforms to never be seen by non-subscribers. Thankfully movie theaters reopened in March* and I was able to catch up on some of what I’ve missed (alas, many of the top titles of 2020 that went to streaming didn’t have a week’s run for large screen movie fans).
2020 was the year of COVID-19 and the corresponding implosion of the film business where many films that I eagerly awaited to see on a big screen, the way films should be, were dumped to various streaming platforms. If the year proceeded the way it should have, I would have watched more films on big screens, discovered new talent and my Top 10 choices may have been completely different. That being said, the films I’ve chosen are all worth checking out as I was watching films up until the day all the movie theaters were shuttered. It’s rather fitting that the last film I saw was the Filipino zombie film BLOCK Z.
Doctoral thesis filmmaking.
An exciting premise for a documentary, the discovery of long forgotten women filmmakers starting with Alice Guy-Blache up through Nell Shipman onward to Wendy Toye and dozens of other international directors unknown inside and outside of their own countries today. The downside is the filmmaker approaches the subject matter as if he has to pad out a doctoral thesis by hammering multiple square pegs into round holes to make a point. The inclusion of a number of over-rated current women filmmakers lessens the strength of this film.
2019 was the year of diarrhea of the hard drive. Like Fredrick Wiseman who seems to have forgotten everything he learned about editing as he has aged, the franchises (Marvel, Star Wars) and elder statesmen of Hollywood (Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick) are following suit with their lofty “epics.” All of them need he who shall not be named to rev us his chainsaw and start snipping away. If they were including Bollywood song & dance numbers I may give them a little slack. Speaking of Indian cinema, when is Hollywood going to start teaming up the likes of Salman Khan with the Dwayne Johnsons? (I have a great script idea for that pairing.) Speaking of international talent not yet on Tinsel Town’s radar, I offer up Aislinn Derbez (who they gave a thankless role in the middling MISS BALA remake) who I’ve been paying attention to since discovering her in A LA MALA. That film should get an American remake as I doubt most people who didn’t speak Spanish saw it.
If I didn’t have a life to live with diverse interests, I’d rush out to see every “buzzed about” film coming out of film festivals. Years of disappointment and 35 years of industry expertise has taught me to ignore the chatter. My favorite film of 2018, THE DEATH OF STALIN, happened to be one of those buzzers (Armando Iannucci and Steve Buscemi were why I saw it). By year end awards hoopla, the film wasn’t mentioned once (neither was Charlize Theron’s acting in TULLY which had the same “buzz”). The “tastemakers” are like babies with their new shiny toys, PR flacks know how to distract them with their lollipops.
In the late 1980’s I served for a couple of tours as a concessionaire with American Indian Dance Theatre. While on a Western tour, we found ourselves in Helena, Montana. Taking a much-needed cigarette break in front of our venue I was approached by a slumped shouldered man. “You’re not from around here?” he quipped. “No, I’m from NYC.” “I’m from Chicago” he replied. “I’ve been out here for 5 years, let me tell you how things work here. The legislature meets every two years for three months, and they spend half of that time repealing laws. If they have any time left, they might pass a law or two.”
I have given up on trying to catch all the films getting rave reviews coming off the festival circuit. The waste of time and money this year was ridiculous. I spent the week between Christmas and New Years Eve catching up on films that have been littering End of Year Awards lists and have not liked most of them. I can be vicious about certain films but I’ll save that for when I get around to opening a Twitter account which will get me in trouble as my sarcastic wit is appreciated by select well-rounded individuals who don’t live or die on box office tallies.
WORLDS APART is a small sort of film from Greece with big scope and ambition. The film tells three distinct narratives dealing with three love stories of sort, each representing a distinct generation, and each story involving a Greek National and a foreigner. These three stories are partially unified with recurring motifs. They also overlap with other devices that will not be reviled in this review so not to give away major plot reveals. This structure recalls another film from 2016 which I much enjoyed CERTAIN WOMEN. The use of a love story with universal appeal with its healing powers echoes the early films by Francois Truffaut, a filmmaker I greatly admire.
We have to reach into the world of hip hop to come up with an analysis of the films theatrically released in 2016. As Public Enemy would say “Don’t believe the hype.” At every major film festival, any many of the minor ones, a buzz starts about the “hot film” that’s a must see and a guaranteed award winner come end of the year. Everyone gets hot and bothered and starts repeating this statement which most likely originated with the publicist or sales agent. (I have been both and write mean ad copy for lazy journalists.)
In an excellent piece of storytelling, ADMIRAL brings to life Michiel de Ruyter (1607-1676), brilliant naval strategist, creator of the Dutch Marines, family man and stabilizing citizen of the recently created Republic of the Netherlands. With political and familial ties between the great houses of Europe threatening to tear apart the young Republic, Michiel de Ruyter (Frank Lammers) is asked to take over after Admiral Maarten Tromp (Rutger Hauer) is killed in battle by the English forces under King Charles II (Charles Dance). What pulls at de Ruyter is his neglected family, his desire to see his beloved Holland not be torn apart in a civil war between the Republicans and the Orangists under Prince Willem III (Egbert Jan Weeber) and to modernize the naval fleet to protect his homeland and their merchant fleet.